8 Reasons Caution is Needed To Chat With Strangers Online
Updated November 15, 2019
Reviewer Laura Angers
The internet brings people together; there is no doubt about that. Never before have people on opposite ends of the globe been able to speak to one another as if they were side by side. Despite the advances in communication, there are some risks to logging on to your computer. Here are eight reasons caution is needed when chatting with strangers online.
Catfishing Is Real
The term "catfishing" describes what happens when you chat with a stranger online who is pretending to be someone they are not. Usually, the "catfisher" is extremely likable upon the first contact. They act like your perfect match.
In reality, they may not even be the gender, age, or sexual orientation they claim. This often happens in a romantic context, either because the catfisher is looking for a love connection or they want to prey on someone. In some cases, catfishing is a front for a financial scam.
Catfishing has made national headlines in recent years. Catfish: The TV Show, a 7-season MTV television program, has outed people as catfishers since 2012. The show follows the relationships of supposed lovers who have only talked via chat and exposes the lies behind the computer when the "couple" meets in person for the first time.
While many celebrities fall victim to catfishing, like Meri Brown from the popular TLC program "Sister Wives," it can happen to anyone. Children and the elderly who chat with random strangers online are particularly vulnerable because their inexperience in the digital world means they do not always recognize the signs of being fooled.
When chatting with strangers, be wary of anyone who seems too good to be true. Watch out for people whose profile pictures are hard to see or unusually attractive. Catfishers are known to steal pictures of other people to hide their true identity.
Trolls Are Out There
The word "troll" is an internet term used to describe someone who goes out of their way to harass, bully, or upset others. They frequent chat rooms, online forums, and webpage comment sections. There are many reasons a troll might act out. Sometimes they enjoy the freedom of speech and anonymity online. Other times, a person's true personality takes over their better judgment.
For most people the comments that a random stranger makes are easily shrugged off, but in some cases, the hurtful words can prove mentally or emotionally damaging. Although the insults are not spoken face to face, they can have a lasting effect.
Identity Theft Exists
The internet is a playground for people who want to commit identity theft and financial fraud. They can pose as old friends, distant family members, or simply a person in need without much effort. This is an easy way to make kind-hearted people who just want to help others, into victims.
If you are going to chat with strangers, never give out your personal information under any circumstance. This includes your full name, age, address, and any banking or credit card information. Never talk about where you work or go to school, and do not offer up any information that might suggest how much money you make.
Do not respond to unsolicited emails or messages from people asking for financial help. Popular internet scams include the "Nigerian Scam" and various fake accounts posing as disaster relief services. No matter how convincing the cries for help, these are usually just an attempt to get you to confess private information.
As a general rule, avoid anyone asking for money, anyone who is promising you will make money quickly, and anyone who reaches out to you with an unexpected check or job offer. It is better to be safe than risk your financial stability.
Age Is Just A Number
The reason scams and catfishing are so successful online is that you can never really be sure who is who in the digital world. This is especially dangerous in the case of adults who pursue relationships with someone underage.
Most of the time, a predator knows exactly what they are doing. They will either pose as a child who wants a romantic relationship with a peer or simply a friendly adult who wishes to gain a child's trust.
Although in these cases, no physical contact occurs, the relationship can still cross into illegal territory quickly. Predators often try to use their new-found influence to have illicit conversations or get inappropriate pictures of minors. Child pornography is illegal, and it is a very real threat in the online world.
You Become A Target
When strangers chat on social media, a lot of personal information is often revealed. Most social media profiles include personal pictures, and information about birthdays, places of work, and hometowns. With so much access to typically private information, those with ill intent have an easier job of keeping track of your every move.
If you post that you are on vacation, a stranger can tell when your home is vacant. This opens you up to a possible break-in. If you are constantly checking into places around your city, they will know exactly where to find you if they want to. The more you post on social media, the more a stranger can learn about you. They can use all the information provided by you to stalk you or make you the victim of a crime.
There Is Real Life Danger
Those who chat with random strangers usually keep their relationships online only. But from time to time, someone wants to meet their online friend in real life. While there are lots of tips on how to have a successful and safe meet-up, not all situations play out without harm.
In February 2014, 14-year-old Breck Bednar was murdered by 20-year-old Lewis Daynes. The boy and older man met in an online gaming community and quickly became internet friends. Eventually, Daynes convinced Bednar to visit him at his home. During the course of the visit, Daynes brutally murdered Bednar with a knife. He claimed the boy's fatal injuries happened during an attempt to stop Bednar from taking his own life. But the evidence found by police, which included duct tape and syringes, suggested foul play.
Daynes was found guilty of murder and is currently serving a life sentence in prison. This heart-breaking case is a perfect example of a meet-up gone wrong. It is hard to judge exactly what your online friends are capable of.
Real Friendship Gets Forgotten
Friendships in the digital world are easy to keep. There is a benefit to not leaving your house, yet still getting social interaction. However, it is possible to become too involved in your online friends. Unfortunately, they are not always the best type of friends to have.
Online friends are not able to understand you as a personal friend would. They do not have a true understanding of your family life or the situations going on around you. They take part in your life through a filter, and that filter is you. They only know what you tell them. Because of this, they might not have the same level of empathy or support that someone who has a deeper connection with you could offer.
Likewise, if you spend all your free time at your computer, it can have real-world social consequences. The less interest you show in being around others, the less likely they are to reach out to you. Even though you might have easier access to your online friends, do not forget to make time for their real-world counterparts.
Remember, it may not feel like you are isolated when you have online friendships, but the reality is that the person on the other end could one day log off and never come back. If that happens, there is little you can do. This type of friendship is dependent on a lot of factors including their ability to access the internet, and their interest in talking to you.
Part of what makes online friendships so enticing is that when you chat with strangers, it can feel like you are comfortable in your own skin. You can give as much detail to them as you want about your life, and there is no obligation to put on a show.
Although it feels good, this deep connection does not come without risks. The more of yourself you give away to a person, the more it can hurt if they destroy your trust. If the stranger you are talking to online proves to be a scammer, a catfisher, or a predator in any way, you will deal with real pain.
If you chat with a stranger online, keep in mind that what you write can be saved and shared without your knowledge too. If this person unexpectedly turns against you, it is highly likely they could use your own words to embarrass you in the future. Betrayal does happen in the digital world.
Not everything about chatting with strangers online is bad. Good relationships can come from friendships that start online. But with the risks involved, it is important to consider if you can meet your social needs in another way. Most people look to the internet for companionship because they find it easier or more convenient to connect with others there than they do in real life. If you are struggling to form friendships, reach out to a licensed counselor. They can help you reach your goals of creating lasting bonds without the risks that come with finding friends online.